Andy Serkis is good at playing bad. The prolific character actor has portrayed some of modern cinema’s most memorable villains: Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Caesar in the Planet of the Apes films, Ulysses Klaue in one of the best MCU movies Black Panther, and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 blockbuster remake. What makes Serkis so excellent is that his villains aren’t necessarily evil; most of them believe they are doing the right thing, which somehow makes them even more terrifying.
With his newest film Luther: The Fallen Sun, now streaming on Netflix, Serkis adds another villain to his impressive rogues’ gallery. As David Robey, the actor is at his evil best at playing someone who uses technology, intimidation, and shame to get what he wants. In a conversation with Digital Trends, Serkis talks about the allure of playing bad guys, working with Luther actor Idris Elba, and whether or not Robey’s gorgeous hair is a result of Serkis’ good genes or Netflix’s massive wig budget.
Digital Trends: You’ve played a lot of iconic villains over the past two decades like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As an actor, what appeals to you about playing a villain and, specifically, David Robey in Luther: The Fallen Sun?
Andy Serkis: I was drawn to The Fallen Sun because it dealt with the ongoing debate about the power of the Internet. David is really only partially the villain in this piece; the real villain is all of us giving our responsibility over to the Internet, deepfakes, and artificial intelligence. We’ve completely abjured responsibility. We almost accept that we are going to be seen, watched, spied on, and hacked. We know our identities will be stolen at some point.
We’ve become so used to the power technology has over us and that is fertile ground for a character like David Robey to be able to manipulate people through shame. That’s how he has power. He can use the information that has been stolen to extort and manipulate people to do his bidding.
Beyond that, what I also found fascinating about the character is the fact that he is a nobody, really. He is an isolated, lonely individual who draws on other people’s personalities by spying on them. He steals their existence, which is the only way he knows to become someone other than himself. That was interesting to me as an actor to examine and then portray.
Of all the villains you’ve played, which one is your favorite? Is it just the current one that you’re playing, or do you have one that you’ve played in the past that is close to your heart?
Every character that you invest in, if it’s current and you’re actively involved in portraying them, becomes the most challenging thing in your life. It’s defining you in that moment. I really didn’t want to play David when I was offered the part originally. I just thought he was so dark and is really despicable in what he does in The Fallen Sun. But what made me take that leap of faith was the subject matter itself and what he represents.
A villain is only as good as the protagonist he or she is fighting. Can you talk a bit about how you worked with Idris Elba in creating that antagonistic dynamic between you in the few scenes you had together?
I’ve always greatly admired Idris, particularly in this role. Witnessing him being John Luther on set was quite incredible because he owns that character. It’s very rare that you work with another actor who’s embodied that role for such a long period of time.
He’s played that character for over 10 years now, so he has a deep understanding of who John Luther is. For me, that was magnetic to work with someone who has that kind of ownership. The few scenes that we have where Luther and Robey go head-to-head are very exciting. We both wanted to work with each other for such a long time and so it was exciting for it to finally happen in The Fallen Sun.
Every memorable villain has some unique physical trait that makes them stand out. Just look at any Bond villain like Oddjob in Goldfinger or Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. With David, it struck me that his unique physical trait is his gorgeous hair. What’s the secret? Is that all you? Is it the wig master at Netflix?
[Laughs] Well, let me ask you, what do you think it is?
It has to be a combination of good genes and some truly expensive wigs.
It was my own hair! It was all my own work, so to speak. [Laughs] I endured hours of peroxide washes, re-coloring and all sorts of things to get the look right. Lots of people have compared it to Siegfried & Roy or David Soul from Starsky and Hutch. I guess that’s David Robey’s signature look.
Luther: The Fallen Sun is currently streaming on Netflix.